Celebrating the All-Star game with five of his teammates, Boston's David Ortiz was his usual happy self earlier this week. But behind the smile, Big Papi was considering something very serious.
His future in baseball.
Ortiz will become a free agent at the end of this season. By Opening Day, 2012, he will be 36 years old. Ortiz clearly has no intention of ending his career any time soon, which means that the Red Sox will have a critical decision to make.
Should the club bring back Big Papi?
Speaking to Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald, Ortiz was open about his goals and likely demands. The next contract he signs will probably be the last of his career. If not, it will almost certainly be the last multi-year deal. He's looking for a two-year deal with an option for a third.
A couple of seasons ago, this would have been an unlikely request. In both 2008 and 2009, Ortiz appeared to be declining rapidly as wrist problems sapped his bat speed. He couldn't get around on inside fastballs. His power tanked.
After hitting 30 or more homers in five consecutive seasons, Papi managed only 23 and 28 in those two years.
At that time, particularly as 2009 ended, it seemed that his days of being a productive slugger were over. And had his contract expired during that stretch, the Sox might have been content to part ways.
But 2010 was an impressive comeback season. Ortiz smacked 32 homers, drove in 102 runs and posted an .899 OPS. He had returned to form. And to prove it wasn't a fluke, Ortiz is raking in 2011 to the tune of a .965 OPS with 19 homers and 55 RBI in the first half.
Assuming he matches last year's plate appearance total, Ortiz is on pace to finish with 90 runs scored, 33 homers and 96 RBI.
Suddenly his contract demands seem entirely reasonable.
Before this season started, Ortiz told WEEI that while he was okay with Boston picking up his one-year, $12.5 million option, he was really seeking a multi-year deal. However, the club made the wise move, bringing him back on what amounted to a trial basis.
Thus far, things could hardly be working out better. So has Ortiz's 2011 audition won him additional seasons in Beantown?
To watch Big Papi playing next year in another uniform would be almost unthinkable. He's become the face of the franchise in a unique and endearing way; one of baseball's good guys, Ortiz has made his mark both on the field and in Boston communities.
Based on what he means and has meant to the organization, his numbers and the type of deal he's looking for, the Red Sox should re-sign him.
“You know what?" said Ortiz in his Herald interview, "I’ve been in this organization for nine years. My numbers ain’t that bad, you know what I’m saying? I don’t think I need to open any more eyes than I have already...Oh yeah, I’ve got more in the tank, I’ve got more than that. I’m just going to turn 36.”
And his All-Star teammates? They agree that he should return.
Jacoby Ellsbury added, “Life without David? I can’t really picture that. He’s obviously a huge face of the Boston Red Sox, he’s been for a while. He brings so much, not only on the field but in the clubhouse.”
Josh Beckett and Jon Lester both believe that the Sox will bring him back.
“I think when all is said and done, David will get a fair deal that’s good for him, good for the Red Sox and good for the fans,” said Lester. “He puts too many people into the seats for them not to. I don’t think they’re going to give him a long-term deal. I don’t think he’s going to get as many years as he wants. I hope he does. I hope I play here as long as he gets to play here.
“I just don’t see him going anywhere else. I hope they get it done and it’s to the liking of everyone. Everyone wins and he’s part of this organization for a lot longer.”
Two years ago, re-signing Ortiz might have been a foolhardy move. But now? Having him retire as a Red Sox seems like the best option. The Red Sox shouldn't let him go.